Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All is done and gone... until next year

So this summer we had two very successful teen teams on this project. We'd like to thank and each one for their contributions to this research project and we'll keep you updated here on the blog about how all the data compilation and analysis proceeds!

T H A N K S !!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The last few days of sampling - August 14, 2009

Earthwatch Blog Post
The past few days...

As usual the Earthwatch team set out the past few mornings with a mission; to collect traps and hope for tadpoles and fish. We have actually caught a sufficient amount of fish and tadpoles; enough for a sample that is. We still had the three teams doing their jobs on water quality and on physical characteristics of each pond and stream. At some of the sites we traveled to bears were around and only Ben Cash was able to go out and collect/set the fish traps. During that time the Earthwatch team sat in the van, cameras at the ready, waiting for a good shot of a polar bear.
Toady, 14 August, the team visited two small streams and quickly collected the traps. There was no need for water quality and the physical characteristics were very easily documented. We got back to the study center in about an hour and began doing some house cleaning in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning. That included cleaning the van and all the gear.
Plans for the rest of today include, jumping into the Arctic Ocean, packing, and going into town one last time. As things begin to come to a close the Earthwatch team gets struck with a sudden realization that our trip is almost over. The Earthwatch team is trying to cherish our last few moments together.

Day off activites! - August 11

Day 8
Today was our day off to tour Churchill. We woke up much later than usual because we only had to hit the road at 9:15. We had to dress warmly because the weather was cold and it was raining really hard. But no matter how many layers we wore it wouldn’t be enough to save us from the bone chilling cold we were about to endure. It was probably the worst possible day, out of all the days we had been here, to go whale watching but we did so nonetheless.
We were all pretty much soaked by the time we boarded the boat. Between the ocean spray and the rain our faces were frozen within minutes of riding to Prince of Wales Fort. We toured Prince of Wales Fort which could potentially have been fun on a nicer day but with the weather as it was we weren’t in the mood for learning where the soldiers of the Hudson Bay Company slept at night. After seeking refuge by the door of the fort, we made our way down to the boat. The captain had to call the group (which was made up of primarily senior citizens) to hurry up because the choppy seas were doing a number on the docked boat. We finally started to whale watch. It was amazing to see the massive white Beluga whales in their natural habitat. Their dolphin like faces would emerge for a split second only to be followed by their tails back into the water. It was almost impossible not to see a whale because they completely surrounded the boat. We were so freezing after a while that the whales started to lose their majesty. We were all relieved to get off the boat and back into the van.
We had to go back to the study center to get dry clothes because it would have been far to unpleasant to stay in our wet clothes all day. We then drove back in to Churchill to have lunch at a cafe called Gypsy’s. We all had a good laugh here when Varun, a vegetarian, ordered a cheeseburger thinking that for some reason it would be a veggie burger. We laughed even harder when he ordered a cheese pizza and then mistakenly ate Leanne’s veggie pizza.
We then went to various shops to get souvenirs and things of that nature. We looked everywhere for bug zappers but they were sold out everywhere. We then made our way back to the center for dinner after going to see the Eskimo dogs again. Before bed, we watched Ice Age in the upstairs classroom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

August 12, 2009

A few photos from the field....

Day 6 - August 9, 2009

As usual the Earthwatch crew wandered into the dining room with sleepy faces looking for an early breakfast. We soon found ourselves bumping around in the old van on our way to the location for that day. We visited four ponds and a small creek out in the middle of nowhere. The landscape we were working in was beautiful. The water we visited today was surrounded by trees and ground made walking difficult because of the sponge-like ground. The creek was new to everyone, even Dr. Cash had never conducted research at this creek so we were really anxious about what we might have caught in the fourteen traps we set. Sadly we did not catch any fish in the traps we set the previous day. The lack of fish was quite the disappointment considering how valuable they are to our research. Today consisted of some long walks between ponds, and many complaints, especially from Joe. Who found it difficult to walk in water-logged waders.
After lunch we were split into teams once more and went to our appropriate places for the afternoon. Two students went back out into the field with Dr. Cash to set more traps for tomorrow. The remaining four students stayed indoors to test water, enter data, and frog log. Taking coffee breaks when needed the afternoon seemed to pass quickly. With nothing planned educationally this evening for the students, they will be spending their time behind a computer, at the puzzle, or upstairs watching a movie. All hoping tonight will grace them with the northern lights.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day 3 - August 6, 2009

Day 3: Second day in the field

Today started around 7 am as every other day. We were really tired from yesterday and had decided to wake up around 6:45 and that’s what happened. Actually, we woke up at 6:50. We had a breakfast and then we put on our bug jackets & hip waders and left to collect some data and fishes. What we got the most were the bugs, of course. We were divided in three groups. I (Varun) and Drake worked on fish & tadpoles collection with Dr. Cash. Jo and Caity took physical measurements (circumference, depth, etc.) of the wetland with Scott. Lan and Rilka worked on the water quality with Leanne. They measured the pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and conductivity of the water. Lan had some bad luck and fell down in the water. But we all had a good time and we enjoyed it.

We got back to the study center around 11:30 and some of us popped on to the facebook. We had a lunch around 12 and then I, Jo and Drake had a long nap. At 1:30 we met back at the classroom. Here we learned about the frog calling dynamics. Then I and Drake worked on the frog calling dynamics that were recorded on June 20, 2007. I scored one tape and Drake scored two tapes. Lan and Rilka worked on the water samples they had collected in the morning. Jo and Caity went out on the field with Dr. Cash to put some fish traps in the water for tomorrow. They had real fun. Here is the lab, we had some relaxing time. I really enjoyed it. What could be more fun than listing to frog calls?

Around 5:30 we had a dinner. Then I, Drake, Jo, Caity, Scott and Dr. Cash went on a small hike. It was fun, but really buggy. We had a good time. We caught one wood frog and took some pictures. We came back at 7:30 and then watched, “Catch me if you can”. Ultimately, today was awesome and we had lots of fun.

- Varun.

Day 2 - August 5, 2009

Today was the first full day we spent here at the center. It’s really comfortable in home like. All the scientists are incredibly friendly and helpful. However they all seem to revel in the disgust on our faces when they tell us how they haven’t bathed for days. This morning after a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, cereal, and just about every other breakfast food ever cooked we went to the back of the cold lab to put on our bug jackets and waders for the first time. For this first field session we didn’t do much actual scientific stuff. We mostly just tried to get accustomed to being in waders.
This didn’t look as hard as it really was. On first glance it looked like the water couldn’t be more than 1 or 2 feet deep. I was surprised when I took my first step in and found myself submerged to my knee. The floor of the pond we were in, like all the ponds in the area, was organic and made up of a loose sort of mud that virtually sucked people into it.
After field work and lunch, we had a short lecture from Dr. Cash on what we were specifically going to be doing. Our main objectives were to get samples of frogs, fish, and the wetland water. In this lecture we learned about the mysteries of how the fish and frogs stayed in these ponds that were comprised entirely of melt waters. The frogs apparently use a sort of biological antifreeze to allow their blood to super-cool rather than freeze. They do this by ramping up their glucose levels thus changing their bloods specific heat and allowing it to have a lower freezing point.
After this lecture, we went and made fish traps which were made out of two 2 liter soda bottles assembled in a way that made it so the fish could go in but could not go out. Apparently when the fish entered the trap they were completely disoriented and couldn’t figure out away to exit the trap. We first had to clean out a whole bunch of bottles that were from the recycling center. Then we had to put cut them and put them together.
We then went out and placed the traps in ponds around the wetland and then came back to the center for dinner. After dinner we attended a lecture by the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society on Caribou which was interesting but everyone was so tired that we were more like zombies in the lecture hall rather than inquisitive students.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Arrival Day - August 4, 2009

So today was the beginning of my arctic adventure. It started at 3:30 AM when I miraculously woke up, most likely from a combination of nerves and excitement, more than ready to start my day all too early. All of my flights were relatively uneventful - in fact, i would venture to say they were all entirely and perfectly uneventful. In Chicago, i had to go through three terminals to get from my inbound gate to my outbound gate. There, I met Joe (from Pennsylvania) and Drake (from Virginia). In Winnipeg, I was very thoroughly questioned at the border but eventually got my passport stamped. There we met up with Caity (from Oregon) and Varun (from Arizona) (unfortunately, Varun’s luggage was lost along the way and the final member of our team, Lan, missed one of her connections, so she will be shipped up north tomorrow morning). We all went through security, checked in again, got something to eat, and went through security again. Flying into Churchill was an interesting experience for me. As the plane landed, all I could see was a cluster of small buildings – each no bigger than a house. It took me only a few minutes to realize that that was the Churchill Airport. There we met Ben, LeeAnn and Scott. We threw all our bags into a car and piled ourselves into a van whose windows were a mosquito graveyard (to which we added greatly by locking a number of live mosquitoes into the van as we slipped in). We proceeded to take a long drive to the center, during which we saw not one, two or three polar bears, but no less than six polar bears! Even Ben and Scott were stunned by our luck. Three were males (we saw them from fairly far away), but the other three were a mother and her two cubs. We managed to get a little too close for her comfort, sending her stalking into the tall grass to hide her babies. Arriving at the center was also an adventure: in the 15 steps it took for us to walk from the van door to the main entrance of the center, each of us had to swat away roughly 3 dozen mosquitoes each. And here is where the perk of staying in polar bear territory comes in, because the bears pose such a danger, doors never remain open, making it extremely difficult for mosquitoes to get into the building. On the downside, bear territory means there are bars on all the windows, giving the place a bit of a prison-like feel. In any case, we got settled in, took a tour of the facility and our 9 (soon-to-be 10) person team sat down and got to know each other better. Tomorrow we wake up bright and early and get trained out in the field.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 29, 2009

Everyone overnighted in Winnipeg last night and then headed off on flights to their final destinations today. Thanks to everyone for their patience and also their assistance in seeing the students on their way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Departure Day - July 28, 2009

While we were ready to go this morning, the plane we were to take could not land in Churchill because of heavy fog. We ended up spending another day here with a lunch in town at Gypsy's. We'll keep everyone posted on when we are able to fly out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The last day of field work - July 27, 2009

Today we celebrated two birthdays - Chris and Carla! The cake was awesome! And bananagrams came in handy....

by Spencer

As I type this blog at 5 in the morning, I am reflecting on all that has passed in these last 10 days. Day 10 started just as any other day would with the 7:00 AM breakfast, succeeded by the 7:45 AM briefing, but this one felt different. It was the last one. We went out to collect fish traps, water samples, and physical data on 5 ponds, in which we found fish and tadpoles. We were often reminded that it was the “last time we would tape our boots” or “last time we would hang our waders to dry”. We took one final group picture at the wetland with the last pond as the backdrop. We headed back to the centre, and on the way saw our last set of polar bears. These polar bears were some of the best too. Through the fog we were able to see two polar bears feasting on a freshly beached beluga whale. Along with that we saw orange lichen, with which we had the same fascination as we did with it on day one. We went to the centre, played some bananagrams, then cleaned up all our supplies, entered and checked the last of the data, and packed up. We took one last trip to the dome, where we often found an intellectual conversation being turned into a game of duck duck goose, or vice versa. We headed to dinner, listened to Ymjke’s many stories, and washed dishes for the last time. We then celebrated two birthdays with a large birthday cake. Chris and Carla both received said cake, cards, and chocolates. In addition, Carla received a Winnie the Pooh orange balloon, and Chris received a smiley face balloon. We wrapped up the night with one more lecture, where we really got to think about the research we have been doing and what it all means. We left with the understanding that we made a big contribution, and that this research is an always ongoing process that we can always help with. I look forward to following this project and continuing to think about why the fish ended up where they were and what the frogs calls mean. I will miss everyone and I hope our paths cross again one day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 9 - The bear in the way and the swim in the BAY!

- by Ymkje

This morning we had to go back to the routine that had been disrupted by our day out yesterday. We went out to collect the fish traps that Ben and Scott had set out for us. On the way there we saw a bald eagle perched on a telephone pole next to the road. While working the mosquitoes (mozzies) were a little too friendly. It was our first really warm day and everyone was sweating profusely.

Then Ben heard a rustle and found a polar bear that was a little too close for comfort so we all had to swiftly make our way to the van ( walking, not running!). This interruption did mean that our morning fieldwork was cut short but also that we could get in some pre-lunch bananagram games.

Because it was finally a warm day we decided to go for a bay dip in Hudson Bay. Even though it was sunny the bay was still quite chilly but we had a lot of fun.

Bald eagle on hydro post on our way to the morning of field work.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day off activities - July 25, 2009 - The Epic Blog

Sunset at the end of a great day off!

Baby beluga!

-by Erica

Today, Saturday the 25th, marks the completion of an entire week in Churchill. In some respects, it seems as though we’ve been collecting data and listening to frog audio for months, while in other terms, it feels like we only arrived from Winnipeg yesterday. Despite the contrast between these perspectives, none of us “earthwatchers” (teen and leader alike), can deny that this has been an incredibly fulfilling week--fascinating field data, exhausting treks through knee deep mud, and countless inside jokes and “great stories”. In other words, we’ve had a very full and genuinely tiring week, and finally, today we had a well deserved day off.
Even though the heavy rain put a damper on the early morning and convinced most of us that our whale watching adventure would be postponed, by 8:15 we were pleasantly surprised and ready to set off for Churchill town. We drove along the twists of gravel road and past numerous orange lichen rocks, until ultimately, we reached the base of the Sea North whale watching tours (www.seanorthtours.com). After a brief overview of safety and background on whale species, our tour began. We meandered into mouth of Hudson River, eager to see our first Beluga. At first, escaping birds seemed to provide most entertainment, but eventually we slowed down and were truly surrounded by these incredible whales. Like most overenthusiastic tourists, our entire group became “trigger happy” and snapped away memory cards full of tail shots. Of course, Raffi’s “Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea...” soon became our theme song as we watched splotchy grey less-than-week-old calfs swimming alongside their majestic mothers. It was truly amazing to witness the beauty of 8 white figures arching their spines in unison along foggy horizon, and I think I speak for everyone in saying how grateful we are for this experience.
Soon after, our tour ventured to Prince of Wales Fort on a nearby peninsula. After hearing detailed historical context and specifics on use of the interior, we walked around and snapped photos of ancient engravings, cannons and the misty view from highest point of fort. Upon our return to Churchill we headed off to the famous “Gypsy's”. As delicious as food at CNSC is, it was very satisfying to eat pizza, etc in a different setting. Also, the vast array of dessert pastry options was overwhelming, and after sampling quite a few, I can attest that they were utterly scrumptious.
Next, we drove to the Eskimo museum—an incredible collection of carvings and artifacts from the northernmost region. Personally, Eskimo heritage and culture is not a topic I’m very knowledgeable about, so I was very fascinated by the intricate whalebone figurines that portray so much about native lifestyle. I was also impressed by the detailed stories that accompany each carving, particularly one featuring a young Eskimo boy first witnessing flight of an airplane. I found it intriguing how well this small walrus tusk figurine could capture the stark clash between traditional Eskimo way of life and modern technological development.
After tooling around museum gift shop, a general store souvenir shop, and the local grocery store, we set off for the CNSC. However, our journey back was not so direct, as the incredible sunshine seemed to prevent our immediate return. It was genuinely our first taste of arctic sunshine all week, and the invigoration from the rays made a roadside photo/run and jump around enjoying nature stop completely necessary. Despite massive quantities of mosquitoes, we had a rather “glorious” little adventure that, at least for me, was extremely satisfying.
Eventually, we returned to the CNSC and grabbed an uneventful dinner. Upon finishing, Spencer, Anna, Little Leanne, two others from center, and I went for a very fast paced “jog”/bike (armed with firearms in case of polar bear attack of course) to the rocket and back. In our absence, the others enjoyed numerous rounds of Bananagrams, the “official” game of the trip. We then had very interesting discussion/lecture on plausible solutions to climate change ranging from immediate recycling and choosing healthy grass-fed meat on a local level, to the necessity of clean energy economies on a global scale. They dynamic structure of this conversation allowed us to explore numerous decisions on personal level regarding college and our futures, as well as see examples of current environmental efforts such as the Milwaukee Urban Ecology center, Environment Connecticut, and the Repower America Campaign.
Finally, we ended our adventurous and very “stage one”-esque day with an excursion to watch Arctic sunset over beach—a very fulfilling and fitting closure to an altogether quite satisfying day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Photos from today (July 24, 2009)

- by Chris

Today, as every day, I woke up at 6:50 to the sound of my alarm. I quickly turned it off and decided to get up. Within a minute I was asleep again. When I reawoke the realisation hit me that we were now over halfway and our time is quickly diminishing now until we leave on Tuesday. I briefly hit Stage 2 then but the thought of food perked me up and I headed off to breakfast. Breakfast was very quiet, possibly because Spencer stole Ymkje’s seat so there was no steady stream of stories to keep us amused. The morning meeting passed without incident and I was put on physical data collection with Ymkje and Claire. We were warned several times to bring our bug jackets and we really needed them. Stepping out of the van into a swarm of mosquitoes I realized I had left my DEET spray and my gloves in my room. This meant that across the morning I got about twenty bites on my hands and one on my ear through my bug jacket. After a slog through very wet wetlands we arrived back with all our data. Then there was lunch, in which I discovered that I like Denver. This was followed by an afternoon of listening to frogs, or, as with one of my tapes, listening to an absence of frogs. Another afternoon spent in the ‘secret hideout’ brought us to a very interesting lecture about yellow warblers and their differing nesting patterns. Finally, as several of our number had not seen it, we watched an episode of Planet Earth. I went to bed happily back in Stage 1, very excited for the whale watching and the day off tomorrow.

Day 6 - July 23, 3009

Spiderweb with the morning dew on it. (awwwh)

98% DEET is a great investment with mozzies like these!

Fog for our morning of work!

- by Claire

The day began with a very groggy and quiet breakfast as we were all still somewhat asleep. We then started the day's work with a quick briefing where we were warned to prepare for "buggy"-ness. Consequently, we made sure to arm ourselves with bug jackets and Deet while we were suiting up our gear. However, no bug jacket and amount of bug spray could prepare me for the large numbers of mosquitoes swarming around outside. I almost went crazy from the constant buzzing in my ear and the slight tickles of bugs biting me. Luckily, I think I survived the morning without any new bites (although I don't think I can speak for everyone since mosquitoes seem to think I am not very tasty).
By the afternoon, our morning drowsiness was no longer apparent as we sang "Banana-phone" out loud and competed in several fast-paced "Bananagrams" games. That night, we had a lecture on climate change where Leanne presented us with more information and evidence on climate change's effects. We then followed it with a strange movie, "Encounters at the End of the World", but felt it did not make sense and decided to switch to a more interesting and serious "11th Hour" with Leonardo diCaprio.
Erica had reminded me this morning that today marks the halfway point of our trip. We definitely have come some ways from the first day and can do most of the field and lab work on our own. We have also bonded more and have found a "secret hideout" and even did laundry together!

Laura's birthday - July 22, 2009

There was a moment this morning when I woke up to the most unique setting. The sun was shining, mist was coming up from the ground and my lungs, once so sodden with chemicals from the city, felt like they were busting with life. I thought: This is it; this is what the fight was for.
Rewind to a few months ago. I am lying awake at four in the morning, the bleakest, loneliest time, listening to cars come and go, and all that is going through my head is this isn’t fair. What sort of Statistic am I? I’m 16 17 and I live in a world being destroyed by carelessness. I am furious and terrified and everything hurts. I was 16 when I decided I wanted to do my part to fight against climate change. And I had to fight tooth, foot and nail to convince my father it was the right thing to do. He’s very anti-climate change. He believes everything happening to our earth is natural. He told me I was too young to understand how the world worked, and I had to fight him. I fought him, and won.
It was this win that lead me to spend my birthday with amazing people at the Arctic’s edge, volteenering my time to scientific research with an aspect of climate change.
As I jumped out of bed and headed down to breakfast with Anna I figure I’m still at stage one (Everything is new and exciting, you feel terrific).
I stayed at stage one throughout the whole, entire day. Especially when I got a birthday card from Anna, Erica, Claire, Ymkje, Spenser, Chris, Scott, Ben, Leanne, LeeAnn, and Carla. It felt incredible that even though all of us had just met for the first time, everyone could work together and have such a good bond.
Even early in the morning, when I would normally be asleep still, we all functioned well. We had breakfast –awkward silences filled by Ymkje’s stories- and at 7:45am we had our usual briefing where we find out about our jobs for the day ahead. Then after getting ready, and suited up in full gear –waders, bug jackets, boots, bags- we all perked up and ventured though the swarms of mosquitoes to do field work. This time the walk Ben set up for us to do was....very gruelling. So much so we all had to put our energy into each step we took....not. The work load was very easy and mosquitoes were at a minimum today.
It was Leanne who fist spotted the polar bear swimming in the freezing water of Hudson Bay, near our field sight. Polar bears are very fast creatures, and so it came to no surprise that this majestic creature swam in and out of our sight in a give five minutes. It was only a short sighting, but a satisfying one at that. During the day we also saw many tadpoles, fish, and even caught a BCF.
Later on in the day, after dinner, we had a lecture focused on Polar Bears. Did you know that there are less that 1,000 polar bears in the western Hudson Bay population, and that in Canada there are only 15,000 polar bears. It is thought that there are 25,000 polar bears worldwide, yet polar bears are not endangered species?
As, grudgingly, it was my birthday today (I hate my birthday); LeeAnn had baked a fabulous chocolate cake with the best frosting top to celebrate the occasion. My nana would probs dislike me for saying this, but the cake was the most amazing cake I have ever come across. And eating most of the cake –me and Anna going back for seconds- we watched a film before heading off to bed. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I can’t wait to see what is in store for tomorrow.

-By Laura.

Happy Birthday Laura! A good celebration with the team.

The group in the dome - "the secret hideout"


Erica brought the most intense and addictive game that exists and that we have ever played - B A N A N A G R A M S !!!! The tiles are useful for endless fun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 21, 2009

- Photo by Erica at the end of our morning of field data collection.

-by Ymkje

Today we had to walk for a long time to reach each pond and the terrain was squishy. The walk did however allow us to get some good conversation in, and let us get to know each other better as well as learning about the landscape such as the beach ridges we were walking on.

On the way back to the van the wind fell and the mosquitoes quickly came at us and we were covered by them. We had been lucky all day and hadn’t been pestered by them yet.
The afternoon was filled with lab work and the boys went out to set fish traps for tomorrow. When they came back they told us that they had seen a polar bear! They even had a picture, though the bear was far away and only a white fleck. I felt like I had finally reached “Stage 2” that Earthwatch had warned me about in the expedition briefing; ‘Disappointment in the reality of the situation.’

But because of the sight it was decided that we would take the van in the evening and try to find a polar bear. And we did (see previous post for photos)! We all managed to get some pictures, like a bunch of bad tourists, and I immediately jumped back up to stage 1: ‘everything is new and exciting; you feel terrific.’

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The first polar bear sighting - July 21, 2009

So here's the first bear that part of the group saw this afternoon. Note the white dot on the right.....

The Ithaca, a wrecked ship in Hudson Bay

Later that night....

An actual visible polar bear was sighted on the rock bluffs near the coast. The team went for an evening safari following an evening lecture and found this bear.